Are there mechanisms for astrology?
Is it reasonable to dismiss effects because we don't know how they work?
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Mechanism: One of the core objections to astrology is that there is no known scientific mechanism to account for how it all works.

Is the lack of a mechanism justification for dismissing a phenomenon? Several examples make the point that a lack of known mechanism is never a reason to reject a evidence [see point 4.]
  1. The lodestone (compass) was used successfully for two millennia. Yet, no one understood the Earth's magnetic field until the 20th century. Imagine how ludicrous it would be if someone insisted that Columbus was deluded for using a compass as the mechanism was unknown.
  2. Semmelweis (1818-1865) introduced hygienic practices like hand washing in obstetric clinics. He was ridiculed by other scientists as he could not provide a mechanism, even though he reduced the mortality rate. Yet, it became accepted practice years after he died when Pasteur confirmed germ theory.
  3. In 1899, scientists at Bayer unveiled Aspirin, as an effective remedy for various ills without knowing the mechanism. It was not until 1971 that British pharmacologist, John Robert Vane showed that aspirin inhibits the production of thromboxanes and prostaglandins, fatty acids that can cause inflammation and pain.
  4. In 1800, Volta invented the battery even though he did not know that the voltage (electrical potential) was due to a chemical reaction as revealed by Michael Faraday in 1834.
  5. Should Newton have dismissed gravity because there was no mechanism?
  6. The link between smoking and cancer was established statistically [1] before the details of carcinogenesis was discovered.
  7. "Pentosan (Elmiron), is the only oral drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration specifically for interstitial cystitis. How it works is unknown, but it may restore the inner surface of the bladder, which protects the bladder wall from substances in urine that could irritate it." - Mayo Clinic.
"That we can now think of no mechanism for astrology is relevant but unconvincing. No mechanism was known, for example, for continental drift when it was proposed by Wegener[2]. Nevertheless, we see that Wegener was right, and those who objected on the grounds of unavailable mechanism were wrong."[3]

Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, author, cosmologist, broadcaster and sceptical of astrology.
So to use a lack of known mechanism to reject a demonstrable effect [see point 4.] is to use science in an obstructive rather than a constructive way. The laws and theories of physics as they are presently understood provide a model for understanding much of the known universe. To make it into a fixed hardcore belief system is emotional fundamentalism and not science.

Astrology may work by several mechanisms. Here are some hypotheses:
  1. Gravitational Resonance: Many critics of astrology have repeated the story that the gravity of the midwife has more effect on the newborn baby than the planets. However, astrologers do not claim that gravity is the basis for natal astrology.

    Tidal Forces: It is universally accepted that gravity and orbital resonance of the Sun and the Moon affects the Earth's oceanic tides and the Earth tide (body tide). The tidal force is part of what some astrologers call natural astrology which also includes the study of the coincidence of seismic activity with celestial positions, harvests and weather. The most popular ancient book on astrology Tetrabiblos by polymath, Ptolemy, contains the first records of a tidal connection with the Moon - a theory he derived from ancient observation. Centuries later, Galileo and Kepler, both astronomers and astrologers disagreed on this. Kepler supported Ptolemy's theory and identified the role of the 18.6-year nodal cycle: the precession of the lunar nodes even though he did not know the mechanism. (Kepler's nodal cycle affects the tides, harvests and climate). Galileo however, incorrectly believed that the tidal effect was caused by the Earth's orbit of the Sun. It was Newton who accepted natural astrology (but there is no evidence he practiced judicial astrology) who applied his theory of universal gravitation to the role of the Sun and the Moon and the tides.

    Studies have proposed that the tidal forces also affect the Earth's plate tectonics (Continental drift). (Moore 1973) (Scoppola 2006) The tidal force is part of what some astrologers call natural astrology which also includes the study of the coincidence of seismic activity with celestial positions, harvests and weather.

    I believe it is premature to set limits on the effect of gravity and orbital resonance on Earth as there is much we don't understand. For example, gravity is the one known force that does not yet fit into a Unified Field Theory. Also, the effects of gravity can be amplified by circumstances such as tidal resonance resulting in 16m tides in the Bay of Fundy (Canada).

  2. Correlation precedes possible Causation: Dr Percy Seymour, former principal lecturer in astronomy and astrophysics at Plymouth University and previously a researcher at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, has developed a model to describe the mechanism behind astrology. It is outlined in his title "Astrology: The evidence of Science". This interview from 1989 may not include his more recent research. In outline, his model is based on the tidal tugs of all the planets in addition to the Sun and Moon which disrupt the Earth's magnetosphere (magnetic field) which affects the human neural network. It works through the gravitational effects of the planets which are magnified by what Seymour calls 'magneto tidal resonance' to affect the sunspot cycle. Jane Blizard at NASA produced evidence for heliocentric planetary conjunctions, oppositions and squares (90 angle) giving rise to violent solar disturbances. Dr Robin Baker of Manchester University has evidence suggesting humans are sensitive to changes in the Earth's magnetic field.
    "The whole Solar System is playing a 'symphony' on the magnetic field of the Earth ... We are all genetically 'tuned' to receive a different set of 'melodies' from this symphony." Percy Seymour, The Scientific Proof of Astrology (1997) p.7

    Planetary alignments correlate with Sunspot cycles which impact the Earth: In separate studies, there are peaks within the Sun spot cycle coinciding with the helio Jupiter/Saturn conjunction 11.86 years, Jupiter's perihelion 9.93 years and what astrologer's call a Sun/Venus conjunction 11.08 years. Solar output (including heat, light, radio, x-rays, neutrinos, solar wind and possibly more) is extremely important as regards all life on Earth (not just climate). Some of these outputs directly affect human behaviour through interactions with the Earth's electromagnetic field. For example, there are studies showing significant correlations between events such as wars on Earth and the 11 and 22 year sunspot cycle.
  3. Causal or acausal relationship: Many astrologers believe that the observed (terrestrial/extra-terrestrial) correlation reflects an acausal connecting principle or 'synchronicity' as proposed by Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, Dr Carl Gustav Jung. An example of synchronicity is when a train pulls out of the station as the hands of the clock strike the hour. Neither the clock caused the train to pull out nor did the train cause the clock to strike the hour. Synchronicity is a belief, but not an article of faith. I am not aware of any astrologers claiming any known scientific basis for this, even though one of the pioneers of quantum physics, inventor of the neutrino and Nobel prize-winner, Wolfgang Pauli helped Jung to clarify the concept. However, this is one of several metaphysical models and used for want of a better understanding of the mechanism. This could be likened to the way Cosmologists speculate about the mechanics of the Universe. Yet, it does not make their entire work rubbish.

  4. Frontiers of Science. As stated above, it is unwise and premature to use the current model of the four fundamental interactions (previously known as fundamental forces) as a basis to rule out possibilities for several reasons. First, within this model, quantum mechanics and gravity are not yet reconciled. Scientists are still struggling to develop a theory of Quantum Gravity and as a result a Grand Unified Field Theory. In addition, several discoveries within quantum physics suggests that this could in the future become a fertile area for research into a possible mechanism.

    "If Quantum Physics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you have understood it yet." ~ Niels Bohr, (like Wolfgang Pauli) a leading pioneer in Quantum Mechanics.
    1. QM has shown that physics works with uncertainties and probabilities.
    2. The observer effect, (I prefer Participator effect), suggests that our consciousness may be affected by and may affect external objects.
    3. Quantum Entanglement allows the possibility of atoms remaining interconnected over huge distances. Einstein called it "Spooky action at a distance." Entanglement has no field and no satisfactory explanation. Zeilinger, the experimenter who demonstrated Quantum Entanglement over 89 miles (144kms) in the Canary Islands claims to be contemplating the possibility of shooting entangled photons to Mars and back to Earth (>100 million kms). [link]
    4. While it is generally, but not universally agreed that an electron or photon, for example, is subject to the wave/particle duality, in theory a planet also exhibits the properties of a wave and a particle.

Why it is no longer acceptable to say astrology is rubbish on a scientific basis.


[1]^U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964.
[2]^ Wegener, Alfred. "Die Entstehung der Kontinente." Petermanns Geographische Mitteilung 58 (1912): 185-195, 253-256, 305-309.
[3]^Sagan, Carl. "Letter." The Humanist 36 (1976): 2.

Robert Currey

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